A Utah woman faces hate crime-related charges that could send her to prison for a year after she allegedly stomped on a pro-police sign and smirked in an “intimidating manner” at a deputy who gave her friend a speeding ticket.
The charges stem from an incident that occurred at a gas station in Panguitch, Utah, on July 7, when a Garfield County sheriff’s deputy pulled the suspect’s friend over for speeding.
The suspect, 19, was consoling her friend about the ticket when she allegedly tried to “intimidate” the sheriff’s deputy by destroying a sign that read “Back the Blue,” according to charging documents obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune.
“I observed one of the friends … stomping on a ‘Back the Blue’ sign next to where the traffic stop was conducted, crumple it up in a destructive manner and throw it into a trash can,” the deputy wrote in the charging document obtained by the Daily Beast.
He added that she did all this “while smirking in an intimidating manner toward me.”
The officer did not back down from the “intimidating” smirk, according to the document. Instead, he read the woman her Miranda rights and asked where she got the sign. She initially claimed that she got it from her mom before acknowledging that she found it on the ground, according to the deputy.
The deputy said it looked like a sign issued by his sheriff’s office, so he arrested her for “destroying property that did not belong to her in a manner to attempt to intimidate law enforcement.”
The woman has been charged with disorderly conduct and criminal mischief with a hate crime enhancement, which includes a maximum sentence of a year in jail.
The hate crime enhancement was added because the woman was allegedly trying to “intimidate or terrorize” the officer, the charging document said. “Intimidate or terrorize” means causing a person to fear for their safety or causing damage to the property of that person or another, according to Utah’s hate crime statute for civil rights violations.
The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office and the county attorney’s office have not commented on the sign case.
The suspect has not been identified.
It’s not the first time that someone has faced a hate crime enhancement for vandalizing pro-police signs in the county. Last year, a 32-year-old was charged with a hate crime after he used pink spray-paint to edit a “Back the Blue” sign in Garfield County, so that it read “Back the Bisexual.”
The man ultimately pleaded guilty to a graffiti charge in the case. He spent two days in jail, paid a $500 fine, wrote an apology letter and agreed to 12 months of probation.
“You come into my county and destroy our treasures — whether it’s a bridge, a monument or anything else — you will be arrested and charged,” Garfield County Sheriff Danny Perkins told the St. George News at the time.
Police have faced widespread backlash in the United States and Canada over the last year, dating back to the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin last May. Some conservatives have responded to the Black Lives Matter backlash by rallying around police with slogans such as “Back the Blue” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
The tension between police and activists has boiled over in many places, including Utah, where authorities have used statutes to enhance the potential jail time for anti-police protesters.
Last year, for example, a woman faced life in prison for buying red paint that was later splashed on the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office during a BLM demonstration. Authorities used a gang-related enhancement to increase the potential penalty.
She ultimately agreed to pay $100,000 in damages as part of a plea deal in the case.
— With files from The Associated Press
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